Paper Assignment 1


Personal narrative is an important genre in Asian American literature and history. In this class we will read and discuss excerpts from a range of memoirs, life histories, and other personal narratives. Your first assignment is to write a short personal narrative reflecting on your own childhood and adolescent experiences, and your experiences as a student at MIT. Specifically, you should reflect on those experiences that shaped your understanding of the term “Asian American,” and on how this understanding changed (or didn’t change) after you arrived at MIT.*

Begin by considering the term “Asian American.” Who are Asian Americans? What are some of the stereotypes associated with this label? Next, think about the particular regional/historical context that shaped your ideas. Where did you learn these ideas – parents, media, teachers, school, peer groups? Which influences have been the most important in shaping your ideas? In light of your reflections, grapple with the question of whether or not your thinking about these stereotypes has changed during your time at MIT, as you entered a new environment and met new people? Support your ideas with specific details and/or examples from your personal experiences and observations.

In order to do this assignment well, you will probably need to write much more than 1250 words, and then cut back as you revise your draft. Remember, we don’t want random jottings, but a carefully considered narrative that traces the trajectory of your thinking. As you write this essay, it will be useful to think about how the memoirists we have read thus far shaped their life stories—how did they structure their narratives and what details did they choose to highlight? What message did they attempt to convey through their life narratives? In what way might you use their narratives as a model? Writing the draft of this essay will help you discover the central message you would like to communicate about your experiences.

This essay is an exercise in crafting personal narrative, a genre of writing that is generally useful in various academic or professional contexts, including application essays, personal professional statements, and business message development. This paper does not require a thesis. Instead, focus on telling a clear story. Work on crafting a structured and fluid narrative, with a clear narrative thread, developing your voice as a writer, establishing a clear point of view, and “finding something to say.” (On this challenge see Clark, Dorie. “Discover Your Personal Narrative.” Harvard Business Review. June 28, 2013.)

*Please note that this assignment does not necessarily assume that you consider yourself “Asian American” or any other ethnicity. It does presume, however, that you have entered this class with certain ideas about “Asian Americans” in relation to other American ethnic groups.


  • In this paper, both the message and the delivery are important.
  • Above all, it is important to make this paper interesting. Have you grabbed the reader’s attention in the first paragraph? Do you sustain it?
  • Have you said something original? Or have you merely repeated common knowledge, or what you have read? Is the paper coherent?
  • Is there a clear narrative thread for the reader to follow?
  • By the end of the paper, have you effectively communicated “what you have to say”?
  • Does your concluding paragraph tie up all loose ends and leaves the reader with a strong impression, or does the paper simply end?
  • Proofread your paper: are there grammatical, spelling, formatting or other errors that distract the reader and give an unprofessional impression of the writer? Are your sentences well structured and clear?

Formatting and Submission

Your paper should be written in Times New Roman, twelve-point font and double-spaced. You must use page numbers.

Please indicate at the top of the first page: your name, the subject number, date, total word count for this paper.

Please submit as a PDF.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2013
Learning Resource Types
Activity Assignments
Written Assignments